State of the Game
Q&A with CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos was front and center in the fight to crackdown on obstruction in college hockey. The initiatives he helped pass, along with the other conference commissioners, before the 2004-05 season, were intended to call the rule book more strictly, and thus open up the game. The initiative seems to have been successful, by and large ...
Recently, the commissoners met again to re-emphasize last year's initiative. Also discussed was the new rule which requires a hit from behind penalty to be called on any play that otherwise may have been called boarding or charging. Boarding and charging may not be called if the hit came from behind. The referees no longer have that discretion.
CHN: What was the gist of the meeting?
Anastos: The purpose was to continue to stay out front and not allow people to drift away from it. To let them know we expect growing pains again. Fact is there is a lot of new players. Pro hockey gets 8-10 exhibition games. Heck, eight games for us is a month into the season.
There has (also) been an emphasis nationally to be more consistent (with penalty calls) at the beginning of the game until the end of the game. That's definitely emphasized more than last year.
CHN: What's interesting is, with the elimination of the red line, and crackdown on obstruction, the NHL seems to be following college hockey's lead.
Anastos: So far, from what I've seen (in the NHL), it has had a very positive impact on the speed of the game. I didn't think the impact of the goalie equipment change would be very significant. But I'm not down at ice level, and can't see how much more room they have.
The one thing to keep an eye on if I were you — the one step the NHL made that I think is more significant than us — the use of the stick is a very significant change. Personally, my early-season opinion is, the way they're calling the use of the stick, that's having even more impact than before. We still permit some stick on body to puck carriers, where they don't.
I saw a play in the Michigan-Quinnipiac game (last Friday) where (T.J.) Hensick was crossing the offensive blue line, and a Quinnipiac player comes in and two-hands him into the hands. That's been a penalty (already), but now it's zero tolerance (in the NHL).
CHN: That seems like a logical extension of the original initiative. I've always said that the biggest problem I had in the obstruction realm was the use of slashing as a backchecking tool.
Anastos: It really extends somebodies ability to take them out of the play, far beyond moving their feet. I was a big slug, I had a big, long reach. I could take somebody out of the play that I couldn't catch. My advantage is on a bigger guy, in tight along the board. But the smaller guy should be able to use his advantage.
That's an area we can do a much better job with. Last year to get everybody on board, I kind of eased off on some things.
CHN: Interestingly, this weekend we have Denver-Maine as the featured national game. It's the rematch of the 2004 championship game that became the poster child for this crackdown on obstruction. We'll get to see how far we've come and how far the teams have come.
Anastos: The NCAA rules tape that they use, they showed the championship game again, and the difference in terms of pinning players along the boards was just incredible. And it's a credit to (Denver), and to do what we did (with the obstruction crackdown), and yet the same team won both years. ... The coaching — we coached it to our guys, and we coached it out of the game.
CHN: Have you had any discussions with the NHL, or other people in college hockey, about what to do, if anything, over the change in the CBA and the August 15 player signing deadline. [Teams used to have one year from the day the player left school to sign a player, now they only have until Aug. 15 of the graduating year. Some people have attributed this to why so many underclassmen signed with NHL teams late in the summer, with NHL teams encouraging it so they wouldn't be held for ransom next summer, only having a three-month window to sign the player.]
Anastos: I have had discussions with [NHL counsel] Bill Daly, our league has had meetings. Next year, we set up a panel discussion with selected NHL general managers, some agents.
You'll get different opinions from different people. The truth is, most of the guys that left this year were not guys that left because of the August 15th deadline. They were drafted prior years and there was a transition year where they could get more benefits by leaving now. Daly said the August 15 date will keep people in school. It's real interesting. Within our league, we're not really sure how it will play out. The agents have an awful lot of influence. What's different is, NHL guys really can't throw money to guys to get them out of school (anymore).
At the end of the day, if you're a 19-20-year old kid and an NHL team comes to you, it's still pretty sexy. It's something very difficult for them to overlook.
We want to try to get some college friendly agents and GMs who would sit and really be honest. We want somebody who could really be blunt and say, 'This is the way it is — this is how our fraternity is approaching this.'
CHN: Another explanation could just be that there was more urgency for NHL teams to grab players because they needed to fill out rosters fast. That, plus the extra benefits that came in the transitional year, could be more of a factor than this August 15th deadline. So maybe this was a bad year to judge the impact on college hockey.
Anastos: Jeff Tambellini had no plans on leaving (Michigan), and (L.A. Kings GM) Dave Taylor had no plans to sign him. And all of a sudden, when everything was complete, Tambellini saw he could benefit more by leaving now.
[Anastos also said that the new NHL CBA closes the loophole that allowed Mike Van Ryan, Mike Comrie, etc... to leave school early, go to major junior for a year, and become pro free agents. The new CBA more clearly defines that players are the property of the teams that drafted them for four years up to the regular graduation date, instead of one year past leaving school.]
CHN: Women's hockey is trying to institute a "dark period" of recruiting, where there could be no recruiting for a month or two during the offseason. Is there any talk of that on the men's side? You hear a lot about assistant coaches getting burned out.
Anastos: It's been a hotly-debated issue in hockey circles for several yeas. It was brought up again last year. Some coaches are saying, "We're killing ourselves. We're on the roads constantly. We're hurting our family opportunities." Other guys are saying, "It's a choice. You don't have to go. We don't have the same advantages that others have to attract players, so we really need to beat the bushes." So with our sport made up with such a wide-range of schools, it will be difficult to get that passed.